Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lessons in Futility

Valentine's Day hasn't yet arrived and I've already overdosed on all things red and heart-ish.  The exhaustive efforts I've put in to this Hallmark holiday have left me bitter and uninspired, which is ironic because I was aiming for uplifting and creative. 

It all began with a simple request from Cael's teacher that the kids' valentines all be handmade (by the children themselves) and not a store-bought onslaught of media characters and canned greetings.  While I like the idea, I immediately knew that this could be a challenge for my family, because while Cael does enjoy coloring and cutting things out of paper, his attention span for said activities is even shorter than the blade on his safety scissors.

I began by asking Cael what he'd like his valentines to be. 

"I want Avengers valentines!" 

Sorry.  No media characters.

"Then I want to give everyone a wood box with lots of presents inside.  And cookies.  And a bunch of money."

Sorry.  No unrealistic expectations.

"Okay, I want mustaches."

I wasn't really sure how to make his mustache theme work, but it was the more viable option he'd listed, and I knew that I had to make it happen or I'd wind up whittling a wooden box from a solid piece of wood, and then stuffing it with my own hard-earned money.  And cookies that my diet won't even allow me to eat.

Mustaches it was.

We started our search on Pinterest, where we found a few cute mustache-themed ideas.  Cael really liked the mustaches on a stick that could be held up to one's face to make it look as though they had an abundance of facial hair.  I liked the homemade card that read, "I (mustache) you to be my valentine."  And because a mustache on a stick wasn't quite sufficient, we decided to make both.

I recognize that a glossy, highly-designed photo card didn't necessarily qualify as my son's handiwork, but I justified this by letting Cael make all of the decisions, choose the photo we'd use, and do the grunt work of glueing the photos to the paper backing. 

When it was time to construct the paper mustaches, we quickly found that it was a task too advanced for Cael's scissor skills, as he consistently turned out mustaches that looked more like fish or worms than actual facial hair.  When he was totally defeated and we'd wasted nearly $5 in cardstock, I took over the 'stache trimming duties and put Cael to work decorating the sticks and glueing them to the paper mustaches.

The next day, I tasked Cael with writing his name on the back of the valentines, one of the harder jobs but one that I knew it was important for him to do himself.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well and clearly he was able to sign the valentines.  He was so good and so consistent that I just knew we'd have complete success writing the other children's names on the envelopes that held their somewhat Cael-made valentines.

Holy Cupid, was I wrong.

Cael's writing skills are probably right on par for his age.  He recognizes all of the letters and a few short words, but he hasn't had much practice writing out different combinations of letters, so all of the names (save for his own) were unrecognizable and foreign to him, leading him to believe I was tricking him into writing other words that his teacher wouldn't appreciate.   

"Mommy, why did you put a 'dot' after M-R-S?"

"Because those are the letters we write for the word 'Missus'.  It's called an abbreviation, and we use it so that we don't have to write out the whole word."

"That's not right.  This says 'monkey'."

"No, I promise it doesn't."

"And this one says 'chicken'!"

After Cael's paranoid barn-animal illusions had passed, his frustration multiplied exponentially with each new name.  He was frustrated with the letter "N", and I was frustrated by his refusal to write large enough to make the names readable.  Sometimes he ran out of room and got marker all over the countertop, and sometimes I was impatient with my son's inability to accomplish anything faster than at a snail's pace.

After the names were finally written, we left the valentines at the counter and walked away, angry and exhausted.  All that was left was to stuff the decorated valentines and stick mustaches into the envelopes that Cael had labeled, and my greatest Valentine's Day wish was that he could accomplish that task on his own without the two of us arguing about it and quickly enough that they would be completed before summer break.

But sadly, the envelopes proved to be the most trying part of the entire ordeal. If I had only put the envelopes in alphabetical order, most of the first seven envelopes that he destroyed would have been for short, easy-to-write names.  Instead, three of the seven he ruined were for teachers with abbreviated titles and, according to Cael, monkeys. 

So on Monday night, when I found myself up in the wee small hours of the morning stuffing valentine envelopes, I knew that it was for the best.  Because if Cael and I hadn't made these homemade valentines together and opted instead for Hulk's aggressive expressions of love, I wouldn't have learned the most important lesson of all--  sometimes the more involved and heartfelt the effort, the more my son and I want to pile drive each other into the sofa. 

So Happy Valentine's Day, friends.  May your store-bought greetings bring love to your lives, and mustaches to your faces.


  1. Those are adorable!!! I, luckily, could do store bought for my preschooler but I had to listen to his whining and complaining that it was going to take him F.O.R.E.V.E.R. to write his name on all the cards. He didn't even have to write the other kid's name on them!! Thank goodness!!!!

  2. Happy valentines day!!! The home made cards and mustaches are soooo cute!!!

  3. Store bought Dora all the way over here! :-) Although we did fumble our way through writing "RAYA" 15 times haha


Leave your own "ism". Cael and Graham double-dog dare you.